1996: Four militants, ahead of the Khobar Towers bombing

Add comment May 31st, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Saudi Arabia beheaded four Muslim militants for a car bomb attack on the Office of Program Management for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (OPM-SANG) military facility at Riyadh, killing five U.S. nationals and two Indians. All four prisoners were Sunni veterans of the Afghan War against the USSR, but they were beheaded in great haste, the Saudis having refused U.S. investigators permission to interview them.

The Kingdom’s Interior Ministry remarked at the time that the executions ought to assure that “such repulsive acts would not be repeated.”

This fanciful aspiration was conclusively nullified 25 days later when a huge truck bomb blew apart an apartment complex being used by the U.S. military, killing 19 U.S. Air Force servicemen along with a Saudi: the Khobar Towers bombing,* a bin Laden operation which might have opened an opportunity to prosecute the terrorist back before 9/11 was a twinkling in his salt-and-pepper beard, had the U.S. FBI not expediently attributed Khobar Towers to Iran-backed Shia militants.

* The 1996 truck bombing is not to be confused with the 2004 Khobar massacre.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Murder,Saudi Arabia,Terrorists

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1980: Islamic extremists for the Grand Mosque seizure

15 comments January 9th, 2009 Headsman

At dawn this date in 1980, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia publicly beheaded over 60 Islamic extremists who had seized Mecca’s holy Al-Masjid al-Haram the preceding November — one of the formative and strangely forgotten events in the birth of radical Islam.

Saudi Arabia’s uneven but unmistakable modernization generated friction extending to the royal family itself.

On November 20, 1979, with 100,000-plus pilgrims bustling in Islam’s holiest shrine on the hajj, a few hundred multinational messianic militants took it over with a cache of smuggled firearms.

For two embarrassing weeks, the Saudi government struggled to respond, bumbling a couple of military operations and delicately negotiating the ecclesiastical permission it would require to commit violence within the Grand Mosque. (Strict Moslim prohibitions against same had left the kingdom’s unarmed guards essentially defenseless against the initial takeover.)

In exchange for that fatwa, the House of Saud struck a Faustian bargain: agreeing to roll back secularization and impose strict Islamic law.

The balance of military materiel, of course, would prove to be no contest at all; Riyadh had troops, heavy armament, and now, permission to use them (and to damage the mosque … which they did). Most of the Mahdists were slain in the decisive assault; the survivors* (except for a few who were underage) were publicly beheaded in various cities around Saudi Arabia on this date, including the operation’s leader, Juhayman al-Otaibi.

But their deed — second-tier news at the time in a United States distracted by the Iranian Revolution — would have dramatic long-term repurcussions. Though intimations of deeper bin Laden family involvement** seem sketchy, it certainly appears to have inspired the 22-year-old Osama bin Laden; he soon made his way to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, a war that began in earnest just days after the end of the siege and to whose prosecution Saudi Arabia and the west would gratefully direct Islamist energies.

Meanwhile, the Saudi government’s pact with the clergy that gained it permission to assail the Grand Mosque saw it subsequently bankroll Wahhabi religious instruction in Saudi Arabia and beyond … arguably the hand that rocked the cradle of present-day Islamic radical movements like al-Qaeda.

Much of what is latterly recalled about this affair by Anglophones comes courtesy of journalist Yaroslav Trofimov’s recent book The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine. (Review | Another | Book home page).

In this clip, the author discusses the legacy of the siege with Fareed Zakaria.

* The Saudi government put out the figure of 63 executions. Some sources now report 67.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Saudi Arabia,Terrorists

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1966: Sayyid Qutb

1 comment August 29th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1966, author and intellectual Sayyid Qutb was hanged for plotting to overthrow the Egyptian state.

Qutb — whose names can be transliterated many ways (Saïd, Syed, Seyyid, Sayid, or Sayed; Koteb, Kotb, Qutub or Kutb) — was one of the most influential Islamist thinkers of the 20th century, and helped shape the ideas of Osama bin Laden.

A traditionally-minded Muslim civil servant in a westernizing Egypt, Qutb’s journey to radicalism is traditionally dated to his late 1940’s study abroad in the U.S. at what is now the University of Northern Colorado, where the decadence, materialism, and lax morality of the global hegemon saw him seeing existential evil in the everyday all around him:

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs — and she shows all this and does not hide it.

Qutb left Greeley, Colo., in 1950 with a master’s degree and an intention to mount an Islamic revolution in his home country that would implement sharia and keep shapely thighs safely under wraps. (Qutb never married, bemoaning the scanty pickings of pure fish in the sea. He may have faced the gallows a virgin.)

He hooked up with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, landed in Egypt’s famously savage prisons (future president Anwar Sadat was one of his judges), and the experience of torture hardened his commitment to a vanguard-led revolution. He kept up his prolific writing output, penning perhaps his most notable work, Milestones (the text was later used against him at his capital trial).

Qutb’s release in 1964 was only for a few months, before Egyptian security got wind of a new Muslim Brotherhood plot to overthrow the government and rounded up Qutb as the supposed ringleader — or just railroaded him because it didn’t like where he was going with passages like

there are many practical obstacles in establishing God’s rule on earth, such as the power of the state, the social system and traditions and, in general, the whole human environment. Islam uses force only to remove these obstacles so that there may not remain any wall between Islam and individual human beings.

With the benefit of hindsight, one can readily imagine that his martyr’s death did not squelch his movement, but greatened his stature to admiring eyes.

But it was hardly a direct path into an un-critiqued hall of martyrs in an undifferentiated “radical Islam”. While Qutb had his own influence in Egypt, Cairo has managed to keep the lid on the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutbism, however, was exported to Saudi Arabia — which intentionally imported it for various practical and geopolitical reasons — where it flourished, often in a fractious relationship with official Saudi Wahhabism.

One of Qutb’s students was the uncle of Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the hanged intellectual greatly influenced Zawahiri’s own path into radicalism and to al-Qaeda. Since September 11, of course, the path Qutb himself followed has become of much more pressing interest to the West as well as within the Muslim world.

Some noteworthy works by Sayyid Qutb

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Egypt,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Notable Participants,Popular Culture,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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